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"Good, if not great, grindhouse."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Don't let some of the pedigree that "Revenge of the Green Dragons" can whip out fool you - executive producer/"presenter" Martin Scorsese and co-director Andrew Lau have made some transcendent gangster movies, but this one is more or less the sort of lurid fare its name suggests. This is not an argument against it, mind you; what better way is there to tell the story of an Asian-American street gang than by bringing some Hong Kong style to old-school grindhouse?" (more)
"Bird On The Highwire"
5 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Every once in a while, a movie comes around that contains some element--an intriguing premise, a unique visual approach, an attention-grabbing performance or two--that manages to genuinely electrify critics and audiences alike. The big question, of course, is whether the film can continue to stand on its own two feet after the initial rush of excitement has passed (as was the case of things likes "Pulp Fiction" or "Being John Malkovich") or if a second viewing reveals a certain hollowness that wasn't quite as evident the first time around ("American Beauty" is a prime example of a film whose essential shallowness became gaspingly apparent upon a repeat viewing). The latest cinematic cock-of-the-walk to grab the attention of all who encounter it is "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," a surreal dark comedy that contains, among other things, the aforementioned intriguing premise, unique visual approach and any number of attention-grabbing performances, including one that is already being penciled in by many observers as a sure shot for not just an Oscar nomination but the award itself. On first glance, it deserves all the accolades that it has been receiving and then some because it is some of the most undeniably bold, stylish and enormously entertaining filmmaking to hit the screens this year. Since I have not yet had a chance to see it a second time at this point, I cannot say as to whether or not the giddy sense of excitement can still be felt upon multiple viewings but I can say that it is one of the few films to come out this year where the notion of seeing it a second time sounds more like a pleasure than a chore." (more)
"PERKINS or (Alfie, Please Use Your Brain)"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Those of you who have been reading my reviews for a while will no doubt know that I apparently have a soft spot in my heart (not to mention head) for super-stylish and wildly executed action extravaganzas--this is the guy, after all, who put "Bullet to the Head" on his 10 Best list for last year and who more or less revers Luc Besson as a saint of the cinema. And yet, even I am somewhat in awe of "John Wick," a film so cheerfully excessive that it is at the over-the-top stage right at the start and only proceeds to push things further and further as things progress until I wasn't sure whether I was seeing the dumbest movie ever made or some kind of cockeyed masterpiece even after the end credits were unrolling. Now that I have had a couple of weeks to mull it over, I think that I am finally leaning toward the latter. Yes, it is incredibly dumb and its excesses are so pronounced that anyone attempting a straightforward critical analysis may well go completely mad in the process. However, it displays the kind of craziness that is so profound and serenely self-confident in its lunacy that I have to bow to it--this is easily the most demented action extravaganza to hit theaters since "Lucy" and by far the most entertaining to boot." (more)
"Adultery & murder. You know, the basics."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Georges Simenon wrote "La Chambre Bleue" ("The Blue Room" in English) about sixty years ago, and it appears to be the sort of elemental crime story where only small details need be changed to bring it into the present day. Mathieu Amalric's adaptation is tight in almost every way it can be, just what you want from this sort of elemental story." (more)
"Old dark house, fun old movie."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "There really should be some sort of revival of "old dark house" movies, because for as much as everything about them would likely come off as absurdly dated today, there is a great deal of fun to be had when you play by the rules in place at the time. But given that you're already kind of doing that with silent movies anyway, it's not that big a leap, and it makes for an amusing diversion." (more)
"Stays in place and moves backwards, which mostly works for it."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Given that its name is a hashtag, one might expect "#Stuck" to have social media play some sort of central part of the story, and maybe cringe at the inevitable mishandling. Fortunately, filmmaker Stuart Acher doesn't choose to stack storytelling gimmicks three deep, instead mostly just choosing to let the romantic comedy rest on its actors' performances. It's not a bad plan." (more)
FURY (2014)
"Tanks & testosterone."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "David Ayer seems unlikely to make a romantic comedy any time soon; his films are testosterone baths packed with bloody action and male bonding, an unrepentant couple hours of traditional masculinity with just enough self-awareness that, even if that's not your thing, you can at least acknowledge it as a fair examination of manhood. And if it is your thing, "Fury" is a darn good war movie, no closer examination necessary." (more)
"A 3D theatrical Saturday morning cartoon, which is perfectly fine."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "The Saturday morning cartoon block officially became a thing of a past this fall, although every obituary has mentioned that television now has more animation than ever; it just migrated to syndication and then cable. What emerged was a different sort of cartoon, more irreverent and as likely to reflect an individual creator's aesthetic as a company's house style (which, as a side-effect, often makes them more authentically multicultural). "The Book of Life" is that progression making its way to theaters, a high-energy animated adventure with style and a big-screen voice cast." (more)
"Short life, long movie, both well worth it."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Most of the descriptions of Xiao Hong biography "The Golden Era" spend some time talking about what made her remarkable as a writer, and the film does give those of us not terribly familiar with 1930s Chinese literature a bit of a taste of her words and why they are remembered despite her short career and life. But while the focus is less on what she created and more on how what she wanted - a "quiet place to write" - was elusive, the way in which screenwriter Li Qiang and director Ann Hui tell the story is often what will be the most striking." (more)
"YA with a dash of genre infliction"
3 stars
Daniel Kelly says... "The YA fiction boom must now be reaching crisis point, a meltdown is seemingly imminent. In 2014 one cannot take a bus without being reminded of cancer addled heroines, who in their hopeless dystopic futures represent humanity's sole salvation. Such texts are probably regarded as 2014's most prominent handbag accessory. John Green is the new John Grisham. Cinema has been deeply afflicted by the trend, and whilst there have been a handful of oases amid the dreck (last year's “Hunger Games” sequel was a cosy achievement), by and large the going's been tough. “The Maze Runner” is the latest example of this ignoble canon, dragged kicking and screaming to the screen from a 2009 best-seller by author James Dashner. I am tempted to suggest this is much to the chagrin of all, but in truth, Dashner's saga has proven popular and the box-office reception of the picture strong enough to convey a hungry audience. I haven't read the book (it might in fact be very good), but my infuriating need to constantly expose myself to this underwhelming sub-genre has left me bitter, tired and impartial. I no longer fear disappointment, but actively embrace it as inevitable. Perhaps this is why “The Maze Runner” left me moderately satisfied, or maybe it's just that the feature is a capable little thriller on its own terms. Either way, “The Maze Runner” benefits from a handful of well directed action asides and pays some attention to tested literary traditions." (more)

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